Health minister promises to extend ‘zero tolerance’ measures to community pharmacy after reports of abuse

A government minister has pledged to include community pharmacies in work already underway to tackle public abuse in general practice, as part of his ‘zero tolerance’ policy on mistreatment of NHS staff .

Comments from Maria Caulfield, Minister of Public Health and Primary Care, came in response to an open letter sent by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) on January 6, 2022, which stated that lateral flow test (LFT) shortages have “spilled over into verbal abuse from pharmacy staff.”

Respond to the letter on Twitter on January 7, 2022, Caulfield said the government had “zero tolerance on this and will include pharmacists in the work we are doing on this with GPs”.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed The Pharmaceutical Journal on January 10, 2022, Caulfield was referring to a plan designed to support GPs, including tackling GP abuse, set out by NHS England on October 14, 2021.

The document, ‘Our plan to improve patient access and support general practice‘, described his intention to work ‘with unions and the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges to launch a zero tolerance campaign on abuse of NHS staff’.

“We are taking steps to protect and support staff through the NHS Violence Reduction Program and the NHS continues to work closely with the police and prosecution to bring offenders to justice,” it said. -he declares.

the NHS Violence Reduction Program includes trialing the use of body cameras for paramedics, training staff to deal with violence, and providing mental health support to staff who have experienced violence.

The document added that NHS England would “immediately establish a £5million fund to facilitate essential upgrades to practice safety measures, distributed through regional NHS teams”.

However, neither DHSC nor NHS England clarified in time for publication whether community pharmacies would also be able to access this fund, following Caulfield’s comments.

The letter from the NPA and CCA also called on the public to treat pharmacy staff “with courtesy, as you yourself would wish to be treated”.

Lateral flow tests have faced supply issues since December 2021, when the UK government announced that fully vaccinated contacts of people with a positive COVID-19 test had to have an LFT every day for seven days, instead of s self-isolate.

“Pharmacies have distributed nearly 300 million lateral flow kits, but the current supply in pharmacies is not sufficient to meet demand,” the letter said.

“We have told the government that they should either ensure sufficient stock or have an honest conversation with the public about prioritizing essential workers. It is unfair, in our view, that pharmacists are placed in a position of stock rationing.

Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the NPA, said the supply issues are “straining people’s patience, but this is no excuse for abusive behavior and people need to understand the constraints of pharmacy teams in this moment”.

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, said the association was “saddened to hear that pharmacy staff were victims of abuse and violence”.

“Teams have worked tirelessly since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 and it is imperative that members of the public treat staff with the respect they deserve.”

Community pharmacies should be able to access 10.5 million LFT each week for the remainder of January 2022, with pharmacy representatives saying this should meet demand.

Read more: How reliable are lateral flow COVID-19 tests?

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